Massachusetts farmers steward about 523,517 acres of cropland, pasture, wetlands, and woodlands that filter water, reduce flooding, recharge aquifers, and provide year-round habitat for many species of fish and wildlife and stopovers for migrating birds. Woodlands, pasture, hay fields, and cropland not tilled annually also act as a carbon “sink,” sequestering carbon dioxide and helping to curtail global warming. Farmers are important caretakers of our natural resources, and should be supported in and recognized for this stewardship role.
While State and federal conservation programs provide cost-share assistance for practices around soil health, nutrient management, water quality and quantity, energy efficiency and renewable energy, and other conservation objectives, there is not enough technical assistance available through USDA-NRCS or conservation districts to educate farmers and landowners about these programs, and to do the planning to implement contracted practices. Many smaller-scale farmers, as well as urban and beginning farmers, are not aware of the types of assistance available. Funding for these programs fluctuates yearly, and changes in the last Farm Bill to the federal “regional equity” may result in fewer federal conservation dollars to Massachusetts.
Carbon markets may offer potential “green” income to farmers. Both public and private markets continue to develop, but on-farm carbon sequestration has been difficult to quantify. Further research is needed to understand how Massachusetts farms might develop quantifiable offset projects. See Inputs Goals for more on healthy environment-related recommendations and actions.
Recommendation 4.1: Enable farmers and farmland owners to make full use of State and federal conservation programs.
Action 4.1.1: Educate farmers, including beginning and urban farmers about State and federal conservation programs.
Action 4.1.2: Expand and improve technical assistance to farmers and farmland owners to assist with conservation planning and accessing State and federal conservation programs. Advocate for increased State and federal funding for this purpose.
Action 4.1.3: Expend all existing bond authorization for MDAR’s Agricultural Environmental Enhancement Program (AEEP) by 2018, and increase funding for AEEP in future bond bills.
Action 4.1.4: Develop recommendations on how the federal Conservation Stewardship Program could be improved to better incentivize conservation practices on farmland in Massachusetts.
Action 4.1.5: Ensure that the federal “regional equity” provision of the Farm Bill is being fully implemented, and track its implementation.
Recommendation 4.2: Expand private and public markets for carbon credits and water quality credits to provide additional revenue sources for farmers while protecting the environment.
Action 4.2.1: Add carbon sequestration by agriculture to the Massachusetts Annual and Three-Year Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories.
Action 4.2.3: Research opportunities for Massachusetts farmers and farmland owners to access public and private carbon markets and establish a regional carbon market for farmers.
Recommendation 4.3: Research the relative greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and from commercial or residential development, to make the case that protecting farmland is a viable strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.